Plays by Georg Buchner

Danton's Death

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Danton’s Death is a thundering dramatization of the most extraordinary scenes of the French Revolution, of eloquence and execution.

In 1794, the Revolution was reaching its climax. After a series of bloody purges the life-loving, volatile Danton is tormented by his part in the killing. His political rival, the driven and ascetic Robespierre, decides Danton's fate. A titanic struggle begins. Once friends who wanted to change the world together, now these two men stand against each other, one for compromise and the other for ideological purity, as the guillotine awaits.

A revolutionary himself, George Büchner was 21 when he wrote the play in 1835, while hiding from the police. With a hair-raising on-rush of scenes and vivid dramatisation of complex, visionary characters, Danton’s Death has a claim to be one of the greatest political tragedies ever written.

In this translation, Howard Brenton captures Büchner's exhilarating energy as Danton struggles to avoid his inexorable fall. This version of Danton’s Death premiered at the National Theatre in 2010.

Woyzeck (Buchner)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Georg Buchner's play Woyzeck is one of the most performed and influential plays in German theatre. Based on a real-life murder trial that took place in Germany in the 1820s, the play was written in 1837, but left incomplete at the author's death from typhus in February that year. It was not staged until 1913, when it was premiered in Munich. There is ongoing debate regarding the extent to which the surviving text is complete, and the intended order of the scenes.

This English translation by Gregory Motton was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 1996. It follows the ‘definitive’ order of scenes established by Werner R. Lehman in 1967. Also included, in an appendix at the end, are several fragments, too short or too puzzling to have found secure places in the main text.

The play comprises a series of short, self-contained scenes. Franz Woyzeck, a lowly soldier stationed in a provincial German town, is bullied by his superiors and starved by the regiment's doctor in the name of scientific experiment. His only pleasures in life are his lover Marie and their innocent young son. But when Woyzeck learns that Marie has been unfaithful with the regiment's handsome Drum Major, he murders his lover in a fit of rage and hopelessness.

In his introduction to the published text, theatre scholar Kenneth McLeish writes that the play 'is like a jigsaw, gradually built up before our eyes. Each of its twenty-four scenes is self-contained. None flows out of or into any of the others. Our picture of each character, and of the developing situation, does not grow organically, like a plant (as happens in earlier drama). Rather, it is a kind of collage, in which each new piece changes the total picture, by juxtaposition rather than development. This method became standard in the arts of the twentieth century – examples are film montage, ‘block construction’ in classical music, ‘epic theatre’ in drama, cubism in painting – but in 1836 it was unprecedented.'

Georg Büchner (1813-1837) is widely acknowledged as the forefather of modern theatre. On his death at the age of 23, he left behind some outstanding dramatic works: his historical drama, Danton's Death, 'the most remarkable first play in European culture' (Guardian), the innovatory tragedy, Woyzeck, and the absurdist comedy, Leonce and Lena. He died, in Zurich, of typhus.